Managing Stress in Recovery

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Stress can be a high hurdle to jump if you’re in recovery. In the past, using substances was likely an effective way for you to deal with negative emotions or stress. Although drugs and alcohol may work in the short term, using substances to hide from stress is a poor coping method that creates more problems down the road. Managing your stress in recovery can seem daunting, but with the right preparation and self-awareness, you can conquer each day.

Identify your triggers.

A trigger is something that overwhelmingly reminds you of the past, usually a painful or disturbing memory. Reliving a traumatic experience can blur your concentration, alter your mood, and heighten your stress levels. Trauma doesn’t affect everybody the same way and it’s based on different factors including:

  • An individual’s personality traits and sociocultural history
  • Specific characteristics of the event
  • Stage of the individual’s emotional development
  • Meaning of the trauma to the individual

If you are familiar with your triggers, you can proactively jump in front of having a stressful reaction. Some common trigger examples could be someone yelling, a breakup of a relationship, or an anniversary of trauma or loss. While you can limit some of your interactions with triggers, not all can be avoided. When you do feel triggered, remind yourself you are safe and find a quiet space to breathe and relax. Knowing how to manage triggers in an effective way can prevent you from having a relapse.

Focus on what you can control and let the rest go.

When you are stressed, you might feel weighed down by everything going on in your life. One stressful event such as your car getting a flat tire might send you spiraling into thinking you are a failure in life. Instead, take a step back, breathe, and focus on what you can control. You have the power to manage your approach to life by reframing your attitude, practicing gratitude, and visualizing positive outcomes.

Additionally, ask yourself if anything is a priority or time-sensitive. For example, if you are job hunting, you might be faced with stress that you will never find a fulfilling career. Tell yourself that you can only control what you do in this situation such as improving your resume, networking with other professionals, and applying to 2-3 jobs a day. Complete the time-sensitive tasks first and set small goals for the next day. You can’t do everything at once — so let go and surrender to reality. Eventually, you will make a shift from being anxious, stressed, and hyper-focused on the past and the future, to being calm and present in the moment.

Eat nutritious foods.

Eating a nutrient-rich diet can help you manage your stress in recovery. When you eat foods that are high in vitamins and minerals, your brain functions at its best. Consuming highly processed foods promotes inflammation, oxidative strain, and poor gut health. All of this leads to increased stress and anxiety.

It’s imperative for people in recovery to consume a healthy diet to restore proper nutrients lost due to addiction. What most people do not know is that eating right also eases stress. Incorporate dark leafy greens which contain high levels of calcium to absorb vitamin D and promote happiness. Fish also contain large amounts of Omega-3s to aid in fighting anxiety. And berries are packed with powerful nutrients like vitamin C.  Having consistent meals throughout the day and being mindful of what food goes into your body can help you feel better overall.

Get a good night’s rest.

Studies have shown that getting enough sleep allows you to maintain more positive emotions when you encounter a stressor. On the other hand, sleep loss can contribute to an unhealthy rise in cortisol levels, the hormone your body produces in response to stress. With increased cortisol, you wake up feeling agitated, and, over time, you might develop headaches or high blood pressure – all things that can lead to a relapse. Start a nightly sleep routine to unwind and better manage any stress going on in your life. Read a book, turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime, or buy an aroma diffuser. Look for more tips here.

Establish a self-care routine.

Practicing self-care can assist you in proactively managing your stress in recovery. Avoiding stress entirely is impossible, but when you do encounter a stressful event, self-care will leave you feeling refreshed and prepared to take it on. Think of your mind and body like a car. You can drive your car for a long time, but eventually, your “check engine” light comes on. Although there are warning signs, you can still drive the car. Eventually, without proper maintenance, the car might break down. For you, this “maintenance” or self-care can be anything, such as going to the gym, going to therapy, attending AA meetings, or taking a walk at a nearby park. The more you perform your regular “maintenance”, the better focused you will be on recovery and the less likely the car will break down.

Nurture your relationships.

Having strong connections with friends and family is a crucial part of staying sober and dealing with stress in recovery. When life throws you a curveball, friends can be there to provide support and be a shoulder to lean on. They might not always have the perfect solution to a problem, but they can offer advice or just listen to what’s on your mind.


Consistent exercise can do wonders for your emotional and physical health. Working out stimulates the production of feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. These brain chemicals boost positive feelings and help you tackle stress and manage any anxious thoughts. You might not enjoy every form of exercise so try out different things. Whether it’s walking for 30 minutes around your neighborhood, doing yoga, or riding a bike, you can easily incorporate exercise into your daily routine to improve your overall well-being.

Write down your thoughts in a journal.

When you’re hit with stress or anxiety in recovery, your mind may start racing a mile a minute. Stress can make it difficult to sift through and make sense of all these different thoughts. Try picking up a journal and jotting down whatever comes to mind. Then, read through your journal and try to untangle the positives and negatives that happened throughout the day. You might start to notice patterns and discover different strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. Writing down your thoughts is an extremely powerful coping mechanism that can help you become more self-aware and in tune with your emotions.

When stress becomes unmanageable, reach out for help.

Sometimes, life gets busy, and you may stray away from your recovery program. You might forget how to manage stress or pain with healthy coping mechanisms. It might feel like all your responsibilities are piling up and things are falling apart around you. If you are scared that your recovery is at risk, you might need extra support and that’s okay. Reach out to a therapist, recovery coach, or counselor to figure out what you are struggling with so they can set you on the right path.

In a perfect world, we keep up with our self-care consistently and the stressful situations in our lives aren’t always so impactful. But of course, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, we might find ourselves caught up in the moment and be at the peak of our anxiety or stress without realizing this before it’s too late. It’s important to take small preventative steps each day to strengthen your mental health before life becomes too overwhelming. Managing your stress in recovery looks different for everyone. Try out various coping skills to learn how to best take on stress that comes your way.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.